History of the Presidential Library System

When and why was the Presidential library system started?

The Presidential Library system began in 1939, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt decided to donate his Presidential papers and other historical materials to the federal government. He believed that these records were an important part of American history and that they should be preserved and made accessible to the public. Learn more about the history of the Presidential Library system at the National Archives website.

How many Presidential Libraries are there?

Today, there are 13 Presidential libraries administered by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), beginning with the 31st President of the United States, Herbert Hoover.

Architects and Location

Who will design the Obama Presidential Center?

The Obama Presidential Center will be designed by award-winning firm Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects | Partners, with Chicago firm Interactive Design Architects (IDEA). Learn more about the team here.

Where will the the Obama Presidential Center be located?

The Obama Presidential Center will be located on Chicago's South Side in Jackson Park. Learn more about the rich history of the area here.

Site Selection Process

How did the site selection for the Presidential Center work?

The site selection process for Presidential Libraries has varied historically.

The Barack Obama Foundation Board of Directors committed to a site selection process that is intended to be fair and transparent, in keeping with the President's longstanding commitment to openness. The Foundation released a Request for Qualifications in Spring 2014 that was open to all interested parties. In September 2014, the Foundation narrowed the field to four institutions, which received a Request for Proposal soliciting comprehensive plans for the future Obama Presidential Library project. Those proposals were due on December 11, 2014.  The Foundation spent the next five months evaluating the responses and presented its recommendation to the President and First Lady in late April 2015. The Foundation considered a number of key factors in locating the future Center, such as transportation and accessibility, local economic development opportunities, community interest, and the potential for academic collaboration.

How can I get a copy of the site selection RFQ or RFP?

The Request for Qualifications (RFQ) is available here and the Request for Proposal is located here.

Foundation Activities

What is included in the Presidential Center?

The Presidential Center will include the library, museum, as well as office space and activity space for the Foundation.

What is NARA's role in the Presidential Center?

The Obama Foundation and NARA will work together in developing the Barack Obama Presidential Library and Museum as part of a larger Obama Presidential Center. The Obama Foundation will be responsible for all aspects of the building, construction, design, and planning processes for the Obama Presidential Center. When the construction is complete, the Foundation will transfer the Library and Museum to NARA, which will operate the Obama Library along with the 13 other Presidential Libraries. These plans build upon the longstanding public-private partnership between NARA's Presidential Libraries and the private Presidential Foundations.

How will the Foundation engage the community in the development of the Center?

The Foundation is humbled by the community's enthusiasm and support for the Presidential Center. The Foundation has already engaged community leaders and looks forward to expanding the conversation. In the meantime, you can submit thoughts and ideas by email (info@obamapresidentialfoundation.org) or submit potential artifacts for the future museum here. You can sign up for Foundation updates here.

What is the role of the University of Chicago?

The Obama Foundation will be responsible for all aspects of the building, construction, design, and planning processes for the Obama Presidential Center. The University of Chicago first proposed locating the future Center on the South Side. As a future neighbor and collaborator on the Center, the University has pledged staff time and expertise to the Foundation for its planning work and will provide temporary office space off campus for the Foundation.

How will Columbia University, the state of Hawaii, the University of Illinois – Chicago, and other institutions be involved?

The Foundation is at the beginning of a process to identify academic institutions, thought leaders, community partners, and other organizations with which the Foundation will partner to advance its mission.

The Foundation intends to maintain a presence at Columbia University for the purpose of exploring and developing opportunities for a long-term association. In addition, the Foundation will work with the state of Hawaii to establish a lasting presence in Honolulu. Within Chicago, in addition to its association with the University of Chicago, the Foundation also plans to collaborate with the University of Illinois – Chicago.


How will the Obama Foundation pay for the Presidential Center?

The Obama Foundation will raise all of the funds needed for construction of the project; neither taxpayer funds nor university funds will be used in the construction of the Obama Presidential Center. Once completed, the Foundation will provide NARA with an endowment equivalent to 60% of the total cost of all portions of the facility transferred to NARA. The Foundation will be responsible for funding and operating the rest of the Center.

What are the guidelines for donations to the Foundation?

The Barack Obama Foundation has been recognized as a tax-exempt organization under Section 501(c)(3) by the Internal Revenue Service; donations are deductible as charitable contributions.

For the remainder of President Obama’s term, the Foundation will follow strict donation guidelines in line with those adopted by the President for his campaigns. The Foundation will not accept donations from entities or organizations other than those also operating under section 501(c)(3), and it will also not accept support from foreign nationals, currently registered federal lobbyists or foreign agents.

In addition, the Foundation discloses all donors and donations over $200 on a quarterly basis. The disclosures are made public on this website.